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Online Students Give Better Reviews to Professors They Think Are Male

Even if the teachers were actually women, if the students thought they were men, the bias stuck

(Photo: India Picture/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

At the end of the course, the online students completed a normal evaluation of their teachers. The evaluations covered 12 traits ranging from effectiveness to interpersonal skills. But one factor biased the students' evaluations, according to research conducted at North Carolina State University—whether they thought their teacher was male or female.

For teachers, being evaluated based solely on their gender is a very real problem, since student ratings influence whether they are re-hired or receive promotions and raises. To investigate this bias, the NC State researchers studied online students, who only interact with their professors virtually.

More than 40 college students were divided into four groups, half led by female instructors, the other half by male ones. One of the female instructors, however, told her students that she was a man, and one of the male instructors did the opposite, saying he was a woman.

The two instructors that the students thought were male received higher scores across the board, NC State News describes. This extended even to the rating for promptness, although both the "male" and "female" teachers took exactly the same amount of time to get assignments back to their students. 

The study involved only a small group of participants, but the initial results are concerning. The researchers plan to follow the work up with larger trials conducted in various subject areas, NC State reports. 

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